“West Side Story” review: In Love and War, 1957 Could Be Tonight

The Jets and Sharks, a gang of white teenagers and their Puerto Rican antagonists, are not mirror images of each other. Openly arguing for control of a few rutted city blocks in the West of the Sixties, they collide like taxis speeding towards each other on a one-way street.

The Sharks are the children of a migrant working class in search of ascension, a generation (or less) removed from predominantly rural poverty in the Caribbean and determined to gain a foothold in the Imperial Metropolis, where they are greeted with prejudice and suspicion. . Bernardo (David Alvarez), their leader, is a boxer. His girlfriend, Anita (Ariana DeBose), works as a dressmaker, while his younger sister, Maria (Rachel Zegler), works nights as a housekeeper at the Gimbels department store. Chino (Josh Andrés Rivera), who Bernardo and Anita believe would be a good partner for Maria, is a future accountant with glasses. (But of course, Maria falls in love with Tony, a reluctant Jet played by the whimsical Ansel Elgort.) They all have plans, aspirations, dreams. Street violence is, for Bernardo, a necessary and temporary evil, something to be overcome through hard work and community cohesion on the way to something better.

The Jets, on the other hand, are the bitter remains of an immigrant cohort who, for the most part, moved to the Long Island suburbs and bungalows of Queens, for some of the post-war prosperity. . As police officers Officer Krupke (Brian D’Arcy James) and Lt. Schrank (Corey Stoll) are on hand to explain – and as the Jets themselves testify – these children are the product of a family dysfunction and societal neglect. Without aspirations for the future, they are held together by clan loyalty and racist resentment – an empty sense of white rights and an ever-expanding catalog of grievances. Their nihilism is embodied by Riff (the lanky Mike Faist), the kind of brawler who prefers to fight than win.

As the song says, “Life can be brilliant in America / If you can fight in America.” But what lingers after this “West Side Story” is a darkness that seems to belong more to our own moment of anger and tribe than to (relatively) optimists of the 50s or early 60s. Grief lands so heavily. because the eruptions of joy are so exhilarating. The big comedic and romantic acts – “Tonight”, “America” ​​and, yes, “I Feel Pretty” – burst with color and sentiment, and the silliness of “Officer Krupke” feels like an internal satire of some of the liberals. confessed of the series. piety.

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